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Address: Sitia City, East Crete

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Toplou Gorge

Toplou Gorge

Its entrance is about 200m in the west of the Monastery of Toplou. The landscape is astonishing not only because of its flora and the existence of a cluster of the palm tree Theophrastos Phoenix theophrasti, clusters of locust Ceratonia siliqua, oleander Nerium oleander, shinos Pistacia lentiscus, oleaster Olea europea ssp silvestris, but also its fauna which due to the existence of water in many parts gives shelter to the turtle Mauremis caspica.

The turtle is usually found in the ponds formed within the canyon throughout the year. The geological formations in the canyon are very interesting because they are made up of steep rocks and impressive caves as well as erosional forms called “Tafoni”.

At the end of the canyon to its exit to the sea (150m before the shore) the landscape changes becoming wilder and unique for the arid environment of East Crete. Although we expect to find water only in the entrance, all of a sudden we see it again in the lakes which are formed in a climax way at the exit of the canyon. It is a rare place with aquatic vegetation, running water all year round and rare reptiles. The springs are created from the unconformable conduct of the stratigraphically overlying, water permeable Miocene rocks with the non permeable Tripolitsa flysch rocks.

The region is called Apoloustres which in the local dialect means small-sized lakes with source water animals drink water from. The journey is cyclical and the journey back goes through the smaller canyon (the west part) towards to south and later to the Monastery of Toplou.

Toplou Monastery gorge is the only gorge that hasn’t developed in alpine unit limestone; instead it is found in Miocene clastic rocks. It is beautiful throughout and worth hiking along its entirety. It is home to the Cretan Date Palm, various impressive kinds of local flora, tafoni formations and springs.

The entrance of the gorge is 200 meters west of the monastery. We can park next to the asphalt road and right in front of us we can see a relatively large door. We go through this door and we pass right next to a water tank and we descend to the bed of the gorge. Due to dense vegetation at that point, we proceed from the eastern side of the bed for about 200 meters. At this point the vegetation is diluted and we can now pass the rest of the gorge all the way through the bed.

There is no visible trail, no signposting, but vegetation allows us to find the way easily. 300 meters before we reach the ponds, the gorge begins to get wilder and rocky and in many times we should use our hands as well. It is not dangerous, but some familiarity is needed in that last piece of the route, on the way to the ponds.

From the last pond to the shore is about 100-150 meters. The return is achieved from the western gorge where there is also no path. We just go to the eastern side of the gorge, just above the riverbed. The vegetation in this second gorge is denser than the eastern one and we are proceeding carefully trying to choose the shortest and cleanest route. 500 meters before the end we will meet a small door, which we close as we pass it. At this point we can see the asphalt road that connects Sitia with the Toplou monastery and we are very close to the starting point now. The total route is a little more than 4 kms and requires a basic familiarity and fitness due to the absence of a path.

Additional Info
Altitude: 150m – 30m
Starting point: Toplou Monastery
Best for hiking: February – May
Path Type: Not Marked path – Walking mainly in riverbed
Difficulty: Moderate
Walk distance: 4,1km (East Gorge to the pools and West gorge for return)
Walk time: 2,5 – 3 hours (East Gorge to the pools and West gorge for return)

Tafoni formations

Toplou gorge considered one of the most significant georoutes of the area due to the exceptional geosites that it includes. It is home to the Cretan Date Palm, various impressive kinds of local flora, tafoni formations and springs.

Tafoni are impressive landforms caused by erosion, created in conglomerates and sandstone of the Miocene by wind and coastal humidity, which destroy the connecting materials in the rocks, creating cavities of various dimensions and shapes. The landforms appear on the slopes of the canyon of Toplou Monastery and throughout its length. The most impressive and directly accessible landforms however, are at the entrance to the canyon, which can be found following the narrow footpath.

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